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The Gay Heart of "The Family Stone" 

Members of Team Experience have been asked to share their favorite holiday film. Here's Spencer Coile with his...

I vividly remember the trailer for The Family Stone when it first came out in 2005. I was thirteen, a recent film and Oscar snob, and still incredibly naïve. I was swept into the two-and-a-half-minute long saga of uptight Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) visiting her boyfriend Everett’s (Dermot Mulroney) family for their first Christmas together and the family’s cliquey antics. Add on a stellar cast and the Maxine Nightingale classic, “Right Back Where We Started From,” and I was hooked. I couldn’t possibly wait until December to see it. 

And I didn’t. I waited even longer, months after it was released...

I finally saw it when it became available OnDemand, where I could watch it from the comfort of my living room while playing hooky from school. Even removed from the Christmas season,The Family Stone managed to put me back into that spirit and transport me to feeling of comfort and coziness I never knew I yearned for. 

If you remember the trailer or the poster, you know the film zeroed in on its stars to help sell it. And for good reason! Parker, Mulroney, Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams, and Luke Wilson make for an impressive ensemble. But where the heart of The Family Stone lies is in its attention (or lack thereof) to two of its "secondary" characters: Thad (Ty Giordano) and his partner Patrick (Brian White). Note the quotation marks around secondary, because although Thad is a member of the Stone clan, given the actor’s lack of star power, many might not have anticipated that at the time. 

Thad and Patrick arrive first to the Stone’s holiday gathering. We learn that Thad is deaf, Patrick is hearing, and they are in the process of adopting their first child, much to the support of their family. In fact, everyone in the family – even Rachel McAdams’ prickly Amy – treats Thad playfully and respectfully. His deafness is no more a part of his character than his sexuality; it’s simply a part of the family dynamic. Thad and Patrick are in-sync with one another in ways the film's other couples are not. Patrick correctly guessing Thad’s attempts at “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” during charades cements that. 

Of course, that’s not to say they don’t experience opposition in some capacity. In one tense dinner sequence, Meredith chastises the family matriarch Sybil (Keaton) after Sybil claims she’d always hoped to have at least one gay child. The family immediately fires back against Meredith’s accusations, insisting that one’s sexuality should never been seen as a deficit nor as a hardship, but another reason to love and accept that person for who they were. I was too young to understand the whole nature vs. nurture debate that the film was tackling, but it was the level of acceptance of Thad and Patrick that resonated with me.

Indeed, against the dramatic backdrop of Meredith catching feelings for Everett’s brother Ben (Wilson), not to mention Everett beginning to fall for Meredith’s sister Julie (Claire Danes) who just randomly shows up, all the while considering Sybil’s failing health and the toll it’s taking on each of her children, The Family Stone allows itself a much-needed sigh of emotional relief whenever Thad and Patrick are featured. There is no conflict between them; just love and a visible level of comfort. 

At the time, I had not come out as gay yet. Of course, deep down I always knew, but I had never said it or acknowledged it to anyone. I wouldn’t necessarily say that my first experience with The Family Stone awakened these feelings. But what it did do was represent an LGBTQ+ relationship with a degree of acceptance and comfort that I had never seen before. Here were two characters whose relationship was not defined by their gayness, but one that was simply accepted and etched into the Stone family bond. And while the general acceptance of one’s sexuality is a quality we’ve come to expect in the media we consume, it’s far from reality. 

The Family Stone holds a very special place in my heart. It is far from a perfect movie, but it represented a future I never knew I wanted: one that not only accepted me, but ushered me in with the warmth and comfort of a familiar family hug over the holidays.  

Side bar: I’ve been working on a theory. In The Family Stone,Sarah Jessica Parker and Luke Wilson go to a bar called O’Malley’s. In Young Adult, Charlize Theron and Patrick Wilson go to a sports bar called Champion O’Malley’s. The last name Wilson connects Patrick and Luke, a Golden Globe nomination in Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical connects Charlize and Sarah. But wait! Elizabeth Reaser conveniently stars in both as a kind, dutiful, supporting wife? We’ve got ourselves a Young Adult Family Stone cinematic universe! 

The Lion in Winter by Dancin Dan
White Christmas by Eurocheese
While You Were Sleeping by Chris Feil

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Reader Comments (10)

Thank you for remembering The Family Stone. I have always felt it was underrated and I'm much rather watch this than, say, Love Actually. I thought Thomas Bezucha showed such promise after Big Eden and this, but I don't think I've even heard of him since.

December 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

This movie is really easy to get caught up in. The family (and the actors) just has this ease about them with each other that's great to watch. I think I could love it, but I really hate Sarah Jessica Parker's character and I'm not a fan of her performance here. I just failed to believe that someone could completely and constantly misread a room, and continue to have this complete lack of self-awareness whenever they spoke. The situation is already appropriately awkward, but she's only playing that note. Of course they don't like her, she hasn't given them a reason to.

December 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVal

My favorite ridiculous thing about this delightful, ridiculous movie is that SJP and Claire Danes play sisters. Not only are they 15 years apart in age, they look absolutely nothing alike and have zero chemistry. They behave like two women who have just met each other for the first time!

Actually, Danes' entire performance is like they dropped her onset without telling her what the movie was about and she had to improv every line. It's marvelous!

December 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMiz Miz

I love Diane's expression when she watches the snow falling down. Less is more, Diane.

December 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I like this movie but I will always begrudge SJP for taking up the Globe spot that should have gone to Joan Allen for The Upside of Anger.

December 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

I love this movie -- and always stop to watch it when it is on. It is not perfect, a bit overstuffed, and yes Danes feels superfluous. But, I come from a big family and I have never seen a movie capture what a holiday is like as well as this does (Home for the Holidays is close, but not a BIG family). The way they take to or reject the newcomers!! You have to find your place which is shown in the last scene (coda).

December 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGreydog55

The idea that any Christmas movie need be ‘perfect’ sort of misses the point to me. The Family Stone’s greatness lies not just in what it gets right, but in the ludicrous over-reaching of the Mulroney / Danes pairing, which is every bit as giddily daft as SJP’s wonderful line readings.

December 20, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterben1283

I remember when this came out and desperately hoping Diane Keaton would receive a supporting actress nomination.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

Weird movie that really left a bad taste in my mouth last time I caught it on TV, The way these people behave makes no logical sense. Everything is exaggerated and would have been far more effective as subtext. The gay couple I feel are treated in a condescending manner. Why does he have to be deaf? It's like they are saying "look, gay representation!" and then consciously denying him a voice...there are things that are amusing about this film (mainly McAdams) but overall I would call it bad.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEoghan McQ

Solid film with good performances (just don't ask Tarantino). Parker's character a little too removed from being a human.

December 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMe

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